Political journalist Chris Matthews, in a commencement speech that referenced his many Washington D.C. friends who were Suffolk University Law School alumni, passed along to graduates the wisdom he learned while working for the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr.: All politics is local – including the politics of the job market; If you want something you have to ask for it; Get along with your opponent and be ready to negotiate.

“Don’t ask for the interview; ask for the job,” Matthews told the assemblage of newly minted lawyers.

Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball and The Chris Matthews Show on NBC, spoke at Suffolk University Law School commencement exercises on Monday morning, May 20, at the Bank of America Pavilion on the Boston waterfront. More than 475 juris doctor and master of law degrees were awarded to the Law School Class of 2013.

Matthews went from the Peace Corps to staff jobs on Capitol Hill and worked as a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter before making his mark in newspapers and gaining national and international recognition in broadcast journalism.

Cat fights and birthday parties

He regaled the audience with anecdotes about a time in Washington when politicians with fiercely opposing ideas were able to hash out their differences for the good of the people.

President “Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill fought like cats and dogs all day and could still be friends at night,” he said. While O’Neill didn’t like what the voters said by electing Reagan, he acknowledged that they were dissatisfied with the status quo in Washington and respected the desire for change. “He didn’t take his ball and go home,” said Matthews, drawing a comparison with today’s climate on Capitol Hill.

Reagan and O’Neill “were always trying to get along, even though they were 180 degrees opposed. They celebrated birthdays and Saint Patrick’s Day together. I don’t think Obama and Boehner are having birthday parties.”

The art of compromise

The result of the Reagan-O’Neill collaboration were compromises on Social Security, talks with Margaret Thatcher leading to the Anglo-Irish Accord and peace in Northern Ireland, and the thawing of the Cold War after O’Neill brought a message from Reagan to Mikhail Gorbachev, said Matthews.

He spoke warmly of his friend from the O’Neill days, the late Kirk O'Donnell, a 1975 graduate of Suffolk University Law School who was a Washington lawyer and political strategist.

In a poignant moment in the speech, Matthews declared that he had always wanted to study law, and “I wish a few words could be changed on this [honorary] degree to make it the real thing.”

Honorary degrees

The following honorary degrees were awarded during Suffolk University Law School exercises:

  • Matthews received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
  • Journalist and lawyer Jim Braude, anchor of Broadside: The News with Jim Braude, a news and analysis show on NECN, and co-host of Boston Public Radio on WGBH, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
  • The Hon. Joseph A. Greenaway, Jr., who serves the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He was in private practice and then served as chief of the Narcotics Bureau in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey before he was appointed to the federal bench in 1996.

Law School Statistics

Juris doctor degrees awarded: 447

Master of laws degrees awarded: 11
International master of laws degrees awarded: 17

Total day program graduates: 356, evening graduates: 119

Law School Graduates represent 31 states, 26 countries and 200 colleges.

Three Commencement exercises

Paul Fireman, the chair of Fireman Capital Partners, spoke at the Sawyer Business School ceremony on Sunday morning, May 19. He founded and served as chair and CEO of Reebok International, which rose to the top of the athletic apparel industry in the 1980s when it pioneered the concept of melding fashion with athletic gear. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees were awarded to more than 1,000 students during the ceremony.

Robert Kraft, chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group, which in addition to the Patriots, New England Revolution and Gillette Stadium, holds assets in paper and packaging, real estate development and a private equity portfolio, spoke at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement on Sunday afternoon, May 19, when more than 1,100 bachelor’s master’s and doctoral candidates received their degrees.